Well, I Never!

How Christians Treat Christians

by Lura Langenback

© May 26, 2002

"You'll NEVER guess what so-and-so has been doing," she whispered. Thus begins a new round of person bashing.

Over the last few years, one of the things that has become increasingly clear is that the body of Christ has an overwhelming urge to correct and steer people onto a better path. While we, who teach, are supposed to give light on the subject at hand and hopefully stimulate interest or action, it is not our job to lambast someone or scare them into a certain type of behavior in the Name of the Lord. I realize that this is not a popular subject and many will, no doubt, not read it because of this. Yet, there must be something said. There are certain misconceptions of what the scriptures say and because of that, Christians treat other Christians in a manner not chosen by the Lord.

The first case is coming from a fairly common scripture. If you have been in church for any length of time, it is highly likely that you will be familiar with these verses:

(Mat 18:15 RSV) "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

(Mat 18:16 RSV) But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

(Mat 18:17 RSV) If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

I used the Revised Standard Version of the Bible for this particular situation because it says, in the best way, what the verses are actually stating. Let's look at them.

I am going to give you a senerio that is pretty much what goes on in many churches regardless of denomination. In verse 15, a person is going to someone who is doing things that are going against the scriptures. Let's take drinking, for example. The one who is confronting the offender tells him his fault and probably says that he should stop what he is doing because it goes against God. The drinker is now upset and tells him to take a hike.

In the next verse, it gives instruction on what to do if the person refuses to listen. The confronter goes to one or two of his likeminded friends and they all go visit the guy who is by this time, drinking up a storm and getting more and more upset because of the gall of the guy that told him he couldn't drink in his own home. Now he tells them all what their parentage is and throws them out, if not literally then certainly verbally. The verse ends by saying that the offense is confirmed by two or three witnesses. Great. This sets it up for the next verse.

In the final verse here," the guy is being'unreasonable'", they say. "He is not going to change no matter what we said," they say. The pastor, priest, or whatever the clergy is called in the particular denomination, can now biblically go to the ruling body of the church and they can decide to call the offender on the carpet in front of them or the congregation. If the offender actually goes to such a meeting, they will verbally whip him, letting him know that his actions are not acceptable in this church and that he needs to straighten up or else. He leaves even more angry than before and now the anger is aimed at the church and probably God for allowing such things to happen.

There might be an annoucement made in the pulpit of how this person is acting and that the congregation must now vote to kick him out. Of course, the congregation, being shocked and dismayed by the actions of this person, are now ready to drop him on his spiritual tail. What is wrong with this picture? Or is there something wrong? Is this the way Jesus would have handled the situation? After all, the verses are in Jesus' very words.

Returning to the verses in question, the first one says that you need to go to the offending brother but one of the things that tends to ALWAYS get missed is this phrase.."If your brother sins against you". Do you see that part that says AGAINST YOU? The one thing to see here is that the offense must be personal. Something else occurs about this situation. Let's say it is the drinker. He isn't doing this to spite you. It is his problem. But you want to talk to him about it anyway. The person who goes to the drinker absolutely must go because they are concerned about his health, what it will do to his family, to his job. You must go because of love. If there is no love, DON'T GO. It is not your job to correct someone just because you see a wrong thing.

Okay, he did not listen to you, no matter how loving you were. Now you need to go to one or two people who also love this person and ask them to help talk to him. If it is not done in love, no matter what you say, it will not be received. Period. Know why? Because if there is no love, God is not in it. Only through God can any of this work.

He does not listen to any of you. What now? The verse states that you must go to the church. Does this mean that you gossip about the guy, telling all the gory details of his sin and then they vote him out because of how bad he is? No! Does it mean the pastor announces the sin and does a 4 star sermon on drinking and what it can do to the family? NO! It means that you go to your leaders and explain that you love the person, that he is straying off the path and you need to find someone who can get through to him.

If, after all of this, he does not listen, the next thing the verse says is to treat him like a heathen (the King James version states). The reason I chose this particular translation is because it says it in such a way as to get better understanding of the situation.

" let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector"

You are to treat him as if he has never given his life to the Lord Jesus. Most churches don't see it that way. They choose to throw someone out. But that is NOT what the verse says to do. What do we do for folks who have not given their lives to the Lord? We are taught BY JESUS to love them, to help them, to show them the Love of Jesus. The only way to ever have someone come to the Lord is through love. It is not going to happen if the church chooses to beat people over the head with their own sins. By the way, the person who wrote the things Jesus said in these verses was a tax collector and then became an apostle. I guess we know how Jesus would treat such a person then, don't we?

The big mistake with those who choose to look at these verses, in the senerio I laid out, is that they have taken the verses out of context. Frankly, it is vital to get the tone and point of these verses by seeing what came before and what comes after.

(Mat 18:14 RSV) So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

Does this put a different light on the subject?(Please read the whole chapter of Matthew 18) "But, there is a change of subject," you say. Is there? My Bible does have a paragraph break there but try this. Ignore the break and read it as if it is all part of the same story. Does this change anything? Yes, it does. It shows that the Lord has no intention of wanting to lose even one of the lambs. In other places in the scriptures, it is clear that Jesus is referring to people as lambs.

Now, if that holds true, then the following verses might also belong to this same subject, wouldn't they?

(Mat 18:18 RSV) Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

(Mat 18:19 RSV) Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

(Mat 18:20 RSV) For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

I very firmly believe that these three verses are instructions on how to approach the person, how to deal with the situation both before and after confronting him. It also can mean what to do should the brother actually hear what you are saying.

Next, there is the area of forgiveness. "Another change of subject?" No, it is actually still on the same subject. After these three verses comes this:

(Mat 18:21 RSV) Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"

(Mat 18:22 RSV) Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

Forgiveness is one of those things that many churches seem to forget. But we are told by the Master that we MUST forgive, not just seven times but SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN. In my opinion (and this is JUST my opinion) that means that you should continue to forgive without regard to number. I am not going to address here, more than I already have, about the need to forgive for your own spiritual soundness but it is vital that you do so regardless of the offending person, his attitude, or his actions. (See two of my other articles called "Hate Thy Neighbor" and "What's Love Got To Do With It" for answers to your questions on that subject. I will be posting another one called "Seeing Through The Eyes Of Love" soon as well)

Bottom line is that we, the church, desparately need to see what it is that we are choosing to do to the lambs that we say we love. It is time to get ahold of that Love, seek guidance, and stop doing things "in the Name of the Lord" if we are truly not certain that God has chosen us to do it. The stray lambs need us to love them no matter how dirty they are. Have we forgotten the gutter that Jesus pulled us from? God is love and He loves us all. Jesus died so that we ALL might live.

Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.